The Overlap between Empathic Sensitivities and Mental Illness
After 8 years of listening to empaths share their stories about being an empath, I now see there can be a connection between empathic sensitivities and mental breakdowns or illness. There are many stories of empaths being falsely diagnosed with various mental disorders based on the field of psychiatry’s limit understanding of sensory sensitivity.
I have also experienced a number of clients who, either in their past or while we have been working together, went through a mental health episode that in some cases led to a mental breakdown or a mental health diagnosis. I have learned some things from these experiences and see mental health from a very different perspective than I did before.
Here are a few things I have learned.
1. Mental Illnesses fluctuate over a lifetime and are in fact neurodivergence
A variety of factors affect the onset, severity, and remission of mental crises. Everyone’s breaking point is different and during acute mental health episodes, psychiatric medication is necessary and useful at allowing the client to stabilize and regulate their emotions and mental health symptoms such as mania or compulsive behaviors.
There are a family of diagnoses that in the past have fallen under mental health disorders or learning disabilities that are now classified as neurodivergence; autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, epilepsy, bi-polar and borderline personality disorder to name a few.
I would classify being an empath or sensitive as neurodivergence. Neurodivergence is the term for when someone’s brain processes, learns, and/or behaves differently from what is considered “typical.” Scientists used to consider these a problem or abnormal. They have now come to understand that neurodivergence can have many benefits.
As a society, our understanding mental health issues as abnormal or something to be fixed/hidden has been damaging and continues to be a burden on those with neurodivergent brains. Left undiagnosed, these conditions may lead to an episode of mental crisis that is scary and traumatic.
2. Onset of a psychotic or manic episode can be a lot like spiritual enlightenment
I have witnessed a number of people, both clients and friends/family, go through a psychotic or manic episode and there is enough similarity between a breakdown and spiritual enlightenment for me to correlate them.
In my experience, the client is realizing something either about themselves or their relationship to the Universe/God that is (literally) blowing their mind wide open. With this openness, some people struggle with managing the amount of light or energy that is coming through them.
Their senses become highly sensitive. What do senses do? They interpret input; the eyes interpret light into shapes and objects. In this type of episode, their spiritual senses (intuition) have opened up and they become aware of a lot more going on in the world around them then they had been aware of before.
Things like what other people are feeling, seeing Spirits/ghosts, feeling an overpowering sense of love, and other experiences that they have never had before. They are often feeling really good and express that all of a sudden the world makes sense to them in a way it never did before.
Most of my clients have been giddy about this experience. Completely enthralled and wanting this euphoric feeling to last forever. Unfortunately, their experience will end and it will feel harsh and may bring on a depression or rage episode.
In a few cases, they have processed their experience for what it was for them, spiritual expansion. They have learned to metabolize the energy they are now able to experience in a regulated way and will grow more confident over time
In other clients, it has created a prolonged period of depression that leaves them doubting their experience as spiritual and instead sets them back in their spiritual development and mental health.
And in a small few, it has opened them up too wide and they stay in an altered state of consciousness that most would describe as mental illness (schizophrenia or schizo-affective disorder). In these cases, they feel betrayed by their friends and family for not believing their experiences are real. This can cause them to dig in their heels and try to prove themselves and it may extend their episodes of dysregulation for months or years.
3. Access to an energy practitioner and spiritual teacher can heal
Therapy and psych meds are important for people experiencing a crisis and shouldn’t be discounted or disregarded. And, validating a client’s experience with explanations of energy processing and empathic senses as well as spiritual principles is grounding and healing.
Energy healing is never a replacement for psychiatric help, it is a complimentary approach to healing and regulating emotions. In my experience, those people who receive both have better outcomes over the long run. There are energy tools and practices that help clients regulate and stabilize themselves.
A big part of healing is understanding that some brains process data and stimulus differently than those we consider typical and require different care.
Quantum physics is revealing the spiritual contained within the scientific. Magic is just science not yet revealed to us. Amit Goswami, a retired nuclear physicist from the University of Oregon and author of Quantum Spirituality, has said that many quantum physicists are struggling because the deeper they go into quantum physics, the more science is revealing the integration of spirituality and science.
Our scientists prefer things strictly rational so it will likely be awhile before we can fully grasp the field and thus the Universe. Allowing room in our minds for the spiritual or magical and not just the rational can also make room for healing as well.
The Future is Neurodivergent
We in the United States are in a mental health crisis and we have a poor infrastructure of care and support for those in crisis. This crisis has many causes but is primarily fueled by conformity. We have a model of normal that is entirely too narrow and looks different depending on your gender assigned at birth.
Thankfully, there is change happening around this idea of “neurotypical” that is being fueled by Millennials and Gen Z. Social media is a hot bed of information and support around embracing our differences and normalizing neurodivergence, but there is a ways to go still.
We are also still in the middle of a pandemic that is revealing our weaknesses as a nation and our trauma and vulnerability as people. I hope you will share this with people who are struggling right now with feeling ok and might be looking for another way to manage their mental health.
The brain operates in many different configurations and my belief is that evolution of our society will make room for all neuro types. Like biodiversity, neurodiversity is just better and healthier for our world.